How to Use Nutrient Density to Make Healthier Food Choices

People all over the world are choosing to be healthier. For many people, that means managing their weight through lifestyle changes, including eating habits. One of the common questions that consumers ask is “How do I obtain enough nutrients on a daily basis while trying to manage my weight by eating less calories?”

Even though some people might think that getting all the nutrients your body needs translates to eating a high volume of food, that is not how it works. By making healthier choices, you can still get the nutrients you need without adding the unnecessary calories.

Part of the solution is providing customers with affordable nutritious alternatives, but another part has to do with meeting increasingly educated consumers’ demands on healthy foods. A good place to start is to understand a healthy-eating concept: nutrient density.

What Is Nutrient Density and Why Does It Matter?

Nutrient density is a measure of how much nutrition you get per serving or per calorie eaten. It’s an important metric to develop a healthy diet.

When choosing between two food items with the same calorie amount, high nutrient-dense food choice can provide your body with the protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals we need every day, while low nutrient-dense choice may provide empty calories from sugar and saturated fat with no other significant nutrients.

How Herbalife Nutrition Applies the Nutrient Density Concept

Dr. Adam Drewnowski, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Washington, has developed the Nutrient Rich Food (NRF) index, a formal metric tool to measure nutrient density of foods as well as meals. This tool is commonly used by food companies to set nutrient targets when developing new products.

The NRF index emphasizes protein, fiber, and a few key micronutrients that people generally lack in their diet as the positive driver of the calculation with the consideration to limit saturated fat, sugar, and sodium. At Herbalife Nutrition, we conducted a research with an objective to identify the optimal NRF index for a meal and a day using a 7-day sample healthy menu developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The results of the study found an average NRF index of about 37/100kcal per meal and an average daily NRF index of about 460. These NRF indices may be considered to evaluate the healthfulness of a meal and daily intake.

In addition, we modified the metric tool slightly by identifying and selecting the most common micronutrients in protein foods in the NRF calculation to determine a reference NRF index for protein snacks (PS-NRF).  Our results found that vitamin A, vitamin D, and calcium were the most common micronutrients in high-protein foods. An average PS-NRF index of about 12/ 100kcal was found after analyzing nutrient density of over 160 most frequently consumed protein snacks and this can be used as a reference PS-NRF index to identify healthier protein snacks.

More Information, Better Decisions

Ultimately, understanding the nutritional information available on food labels can empower people to make smarter eating decisions, choosing from a variety of foods and beverages that are higher in nutrient density throughout the day.

As a global nutrition company, we closely monitor the advancement of nutritional science from researchers and apply their theories into practice to produce nutrient-dense products. Calculating reference NRF indices for healthy meals and protein snacks provides a guide for our product development so that our products continue to be nutrient-dense while not adding unnecessary calories.

We truly believe the way to ensure healthy choice is to continue to educate consumers about the ever-evolving landscape of nutrition science.